Stop right there: this post is not about white anger, at least, not in the sense that anybody outraged by that headline is probably thinking. I’m not talking about the rage white, European-descended Americans feel at the supposed hijacking of “their” country and culture, or any other right-wing talking point nonsense. What I’m talking about is an ethnically-inherited predisposition towards anger. Get off my back, willya? Jesus, fuck!
Spurred on by the recent untimely death of James Gandolfini, I’ve begun rewatching The Sopranos. I viewed the bulk of the series when I first moved to Austin with my brother Alex (back in the summer of 2005, a time when people still bothered with ordering physical DVDs from Netflix), but I had watched up to the end of season 4—the latest season available for home use at the time—and then never finished the series.
It’s nice being able to fall in love with the show all over again, and I feel that I can appreciate it with different eyes now that I’m a little older and a little more jaded, but the things that fascinate me most about the show are still it’s examinations of Italian culture and family life (insert a collective groan from Italian-American readers here).
I know that The Sopranos is a work of fiction, and all things being equal, probably one that takes quite a few artistic liberties as far as exaggerations of certain ethnic qualities. Still, at least one Italian-Jewish friend of mine expressed grief over the passing of Gandolfini, noting especially how his portrayal of an Italian-American father closely reflected her own (in some regards, obviously). This consistently blows my mind: I can’t fathom familial relations as depicted on The Sopranos, the strange paradox of unchecked raw emotional explosions combined with repression of deep grudges and conflict.
For context, I grew up in a white family, and when I say white, I mean white. My mom was the daughter of a Texas oil family, her parents were Texan going back generations and a Long Island-raised/English-born son of immigrants, respectively. My dad grew up working class in St. Louis, straight up Irish/Polish Catholic. My home life had almost zero concern with our roots; we were not the family that ate perogis or played Irish folk songs. The cultural touches that my family had all fell under the blanket heading of “Texan” in our house: my dad hunted and fished, was obsessed with grilling and chili, and of course, we were a Dallas family involved in the energy business.
As far as emotions went, it was a mixed bag. My mom was a product of a new era, having gone through therapy several times after college and eventually swearing to herself that her children would not grow up in an emotionally restrictive environment. We weren’t allowed to sulk as kids, and forced to talk everything out. It’s had a healthy effect on me for the most part, but I’ve realized recently that the one way I’m most like my father (unfortunately), is how we both deal with anger.
Sometimes, I, like all people, get angry over things that actually matter. When this situation arises, I actually think I’m remarkably level-headed compared to most people. However, I’ve got it backwards. I blow a gasket over petty annoyances, but only on the condition that I perceive them as being caused by someone else’s incompetence. In other words, if a plane I’m waiting for is grounded for 5.5 hours due to inclement weather, I’m liable to grumble and complain to myself, but I will more or less accept my fate; no amount of bitching can make ice melt faster, after all. By contrast, something that is completely insignificant but the result of somebody being inconsiderate with their words or actions will send me into a blood-boiling fury. It hasn’t changed since I moved to New York. Having to take three different trains because the L is down produces little more than an annoyed mutter, but if somebody cuts me off on the sidewalk I immediately fantasize about punching them.
If I’m being honest with myself, this is equal parts annoyance with other people’s stupidity/rudeness and annoyance that anybody other than the forces of chaos would dare to inconvenience ME.